Sunday, October 16, 2016

Korean Medical TV Dramas II

This post is dedicated to Dramafever and Viki, Korean TV drama and movie hosting sites that have provided us with truly awesome entertainment for the past several years. I would also like to make another shout out to Google chromecast, for helping to liberate us from Cable TV, and for being integrated into both the Dramafever and the Viki app. Subscribing to Dramafever or Viki is much cheaper than Netflix and you will never see another ad again.

1. Doctors, 2016 (Hangul닥터스)

This drama had a very good actress Park, Shin-Hye (박신혜) who was very popular in Heirs, a Dramafever sponsored teen angst romance that began surprising filmed in California.  As expected the drama mostly focused on a romance but the medical context was very compelling. The doctors were neurosurgeons and almost everyone and his brother in this drama ended up with a tumour requiring brain surgery. The brain surgery scenes were very realistic I suppose, but I have never seen one in person.

Under the bright lights in the surgery we see patients live and die (most live) after various pieces of their grey matter are extracted in various states of urgency. Brain trepanation or whatever they do to open the skull is part of the action of course, but these smart doctors make it all look like a breeze.

The character Park, Shin-Hye played was a real rebellious street kid but had an IQ over 156. She was better at martial arts than homework until a series of events propelled her into a career objective to become a doctor. How the street smart street fighter became a doctor was all due to the powerful motivation of revenge - a very common theme in Korean dramas. Not sure why one version of the title for the series was Doctor Crush, but most Korean TV dramas have more than one translated English title, making searches on them for more information sometimes difficult.

2. Beautiful Mind, 2016 (뷰티풀 마인드)

By Source, Fair use,
This drama was on at the same time as Doctors and was it just a coincidence that this medical drama was also about neurosurgeons? Did the two different Korean TV networks intentional set out to make a competition for the ratings with the same theme?  If so, this drama did not have the breezy romance and good nature of Doctors. It also did not have the ratings and ended 2 episodes earlier than it was supposed to. It had more of a biting edge to it, mostly in the form of the lead actor who played a neurosurgeon who had no common sense of human emotions - a kind of autism as a result of the brain surgery error by his adoptive father. No more spoilers, but at any rate, one constantly asks - how can a doctor have no interpersonal skills (sort of like Dr. House but more extreme) because really he doesn't know how to relate to human emotions? Don't worry - it all works out - and true love once again saves the day. Of course there is a romance rolled into this drama as well.  Explaining the lower ratings to Doctors is kind of difficult for me to fathom in my books.

The lead actor Jang Hyuk is excellent, especially playing this sensitive and complex character. He was amazing as the YanBan (scholar class) turned slave hunter in Chuno (추노) , a highly rated TV drama series. The character he plays reminds me of a rare psychological condition where a person can't empathize at all with others. There are other rare conditions where persons don't even feel physical pain - many daily life dilemmas there. But acting the role of a doctor (whom one might expect to be the epitome of being able to be empathic) who does not feel empathy or any human emotions, is quite a challenging one. I still don't know why they gave it the title "Beautiful Mind", which is the same title of another movie staring Russel  Crowe who played the Nobel winning mathematician John Forbes Nash Jr.

We see a lot of scenes of X-rays up on viewing screens more than the bright lights of the surgery ward. We are also exposed to an endless stream of ethical dilemmas, including ones involving unethical clinical trials and fudging of the data. Couldn't ask for anything more educational than that. One yearns episode to episode to find out how or if this physician will discover his inner human heart and not be forever the automaton - or be found out by his colleagues for having this rare condition as it is secret.  There is a good vs. evil sub-plot to all of this which has a very good doctor (Lee Jae-Ryong) from the series General Hospital 2 playing the role this time as the very evil doctor (if you want to define evil as not just greed but wanting to save human lives at the expense of expendable human participants in drug research).

A sub-plot in the drama involves a lawyer who becomes a physician in order to become a better lawyer who persecutes physicians for medical malpractice - motivated of course because of the tragic death of her father due to medical negligence. Can she really balance these two different worlds at one time or can she decide that she sincerely wants to be a physician? Her fellow residents think she is pursuing a dangerous conflict of interest - and in fact she is.

3. Descendants of the Sun, (태양의 후예)2016

This drama had very high ratings in Korea but it was a runaway smash hit in China with half the nations population tuning or something, and it came with government warnings that Korean dramas are sometimes not good for your health or social relationships. Taken with a grain of salt of course - and this was mostly a medical drama. The two Songs Song Joong-ki, Song Hye-kyo, are absolutely brilliant, and so are their buddies, who also have the other  great romance - Jin Goo, and Kim Ji-won,. Much talk now about a continuing series.

Well, the lead actress is an ER doctor and the main actor is a high ranking top secret soldier, but the plot is mostly based around medical dramas and  humanitarian situations, primarily in a war torn country where the Korean military has volunteered for a peace keeping mission.  The drama was partially filmed in Greece, and many characters are non-Koreans in the fictionalized country - very interesting scenes for a Korean TV drama, which are by large mono-cultural.  That has been changing because we have seen dramas where trans people and people with disabilities are leading characters (if not cast members).

The conflict or play off between Joo Won saving lives as a physician and taken them (in order to save lives) as a soldier, are as constant as the burgeoning and yet impossible romance that builds between the two leading characters. The medical scenes compliment the military actions - emergency response to earthquakes, terrorism, and ebola-like disease outbreaks. It is a humanitarian mission full of human compassion. You can also just sit back and enjoy the excellent OST and the humorous and sad romance between the leading characters.

4. Yong-Pal,(용팔이) 2015

As I understand it the title of this drama is very similar or a play on words to the Korean expression for "quack doctor" -돌팔이 physician and 하다 or excellent or amazing.  The doctor in question is not yet a doctor - still a resident - but he is an exceptionally gifted surgeon and becomes a doctor to some shady underworld characters who always getting wounded in gang wars. He is making money to stitch them up in a black mailed kind of way but he needs it to pay for his sisters kidney dialysis and transplant. This was a recurrent theme in the 2016 medical TV dramas (Doctors & Beautiful Mind) - paying for medical bills by those who can't afford it -  while the corporate executives are trying to make a profit in healthcare. No doubt this is also the current reality of healthcare in Korea.

Another facet of the current reality of healthcare in Korea are the exceptionally gifted plastic surgeons. Thousands of medical tourists go to Korea for plastic surgery, some carrying the photos of Korean actresses (or actors) who they want to look like - and apparently that is what they come out looking like. There is a Korean word for these kinds of amazing physicians. So far I haven't seen a medical drama about plastic surgeons. God spare me please.

The romance in this drama involves Yong-pal and his ultra-rich patient, the daughter heiress of an incredible fortune who is being kept in a drug induced coma in a high tech life suspension facility in a secret room of the top floor of the hospital - also owned by the same rich family. Of course, the criminal intrigue for keeping her in a coma is the plot of her older brother who thinks he should inherit the corporation. She is really not sick - she is intentionally being kept in the coma. Apparently she can still hear what is going on around her.  Intriguingly, the scapel in the poster for the series is the "mes" 메스, a Korean loan word that becomes easily learned by watching these medical dramas. It will feature prominently in the Jejunwon drama which depicts the transformation of Korean medicine from the traditional to the modern during the Japanese occupation - the first surgeries to use the scapel in other words.

The lead actor in this drama, Joo Won was excellent in Bridal Mask (각시탈),  where he played a Korean who rose high in the ranks of the Japanese Police during the Japanese colonial period only to later betray the Japanese and become 각시탈, a Korean Robin Hood freedom fighter who wore a Korean bridal mask while fighting against the Japanese.

5. Doctor Stranger, (닥터 이방인) 2014

It is always good to see Korean dramas that involve many scenes taking place in North Korea because it suggests there is still hope for this nation of one people, one language and one culture to get together at long last.  Of course, the North Koreans are adversaries throughout this tense drama, which doesn't have so much the light and breezy romantic qualities of Doctors for example. Not much is memorable for me in this drama except for the strange intrigue of Korean politics between North and South. Of course, the doctor trained in North Korea (where human experimentation reigns supreme without ethics boards) is far superior to the doctors in the South. But how can he even practice in the South? Well, originally he came from South Korea before he and his Dad were kidnapped into the North intentionally but political baddies in the South - it is all so confusing, so don't ask me, better watch it yourself. As I recall there is a lot of tense drama to this, a quick moving plot, and the romance is not syrupy and sickly sweet. Did I ever tell you that there is nothing wrong with a 16 episode Korean TV drama. Anything under that is not going to be as good.

6. Good Doctor굿 닥터 2013

This drama was going to be painful to watch at first because the lead doctor is an "autistic savant" who has incredible memory and genius but can't tie shoes and fumbles counting pocket change. Would you put a scalpel in that man's hands? Anyway, the lead actor is the very talented Joo Won , who is quite adept are playing these sensitive roles - and playing physicians again. Apparently though, being vulnerable and simple this way will get you the girl. His naivete and innocence are appropriate for his role a pediatric surgeon because he relates so well to kids on that level.

All Korean medical dramas have competition between various departments and lots of jealous intrigue between the competing physicians, their superiors and their understudies. Most have competitions and intrigues for the top dog position in the hospital pitting a white knight against a black knight. Some really useful Korean to learn which will give you an insight into the nature of Korean social relationships is the senior - junior demarcation.  A senior to you in either age, year in school, or rank in employment is your "sunbae" (선배) or "junior" (). The subtitle translations on Dramafever or Viki won't always get this. They will translate with the name of the person being addressed when in reality the person is being called "Sunbae" instead of their name. Koreans all live in one vast extended family and the way they address each other according to age and rank is fascinating. It is also very important for how they speak to each other using formal or informal grammar, tone, and manners.

7. Hur Jun: The Original Story, 구암 허준 2013

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,

I really loved this remake of the Heo Jun series from 1999. (There was actually an early version from the 1980s which I never saw). The legendary Joseon dynasty doctor reminds me of Shakespeare. They both lived at almost the same time - end of the 16th century. Not much is known about the personal lives of either. Both left works of massive masterpieces in their field which influenced the lives of millions for all posterity.  This 2013 version is very faithful to the 1999 version which was so masterful to begin with. That to me was the most surprising. After the radical departure from the 1999 version at the very beginning, for a while later I thought they were doing a scene by scene remake but just with different characters.  It was infinitely more subtle than that. Could it even be improved? That they even tried to do better is so laudable and many times I think they did succeed. Well, I thought it was almost better than the 1999 version did but there is a difference of opinion in the Korean family here that the 1999 version is better. It reminds of Harvey Cushing's biography of the great Canadian physician William Osler, which some writers have called a "hagiography" or the biography of a Saint. Hur Jun is a Korean saint - no doubt about it in my mind - the Dongui Bogam forever. Never watched a Korean drama with 50 or more episodes? 

8. Sign, 싸인 2011

Sign is not to be confused with the spellbinding detective mystery from 2016 called Signal.  Sign is a lesser drama and that might have to do with the fact that it is about the life of forensic doctors. One would think with the popularity of CIS and American dramas like that that the Koreans could pull off a good one too. Sign is very good, in spite of the weak plot lines which are almost unbearable at times. However, the attempt to show forensic science by referencing the very real NFS - the National Forensic Service of Korea - succeeded, I think, in making the doings and goings on of this profession better known to the public. It is always the general public who are are always the dupes in Korean dramas, from Joseon dynasty dramas all the way to the present day. There are always the rich and powerful playing the puppet strings of everyone else.

9. Jejunwon제중원, 2010

By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use,

Having taught English in Korea for almost four years, as a teacher in the public education system I was indoctrinated to the cultural history of Korea and the atrocities inflicted on the Korean people during the Japanese colonial period.  Make no mistake - that time in the history of Korea - even before the Korean war - was no joke. This drama is poignant in the context for those times, beginning when the last King of the Joeson dynasty ruled, to the Japanese colonial takeover. Parallel to those historic events we have the unfolding of the medical drama where the Korean people transition from practicing traditional or Chinese medicine to the techniques of modern surgery.  A white missionary who was also a doctor and actual historical figure appears in this drama. This drama is in fact based around a lot of historical characters and events, who often appear in scenes, if not whole episodes. For today, the Jejunwon, that held the first beginnings of the modern Korean hospital, lives on as the Severence Hospital, itself associated with one of the best Universities in Korea - Yonsei University.

In this drama the first and best of the Korean surgeons turns out to be the poor son of a butcher and himself a butcher, the lowest undesirable class in the later Joseon.  The drama is about how he becomes the first and the best scalpel wielding doctor in Korea, better than an aristocratic Korean who went to Japan to learn modern surgical techniques. It is a class war struggle where heart and brains win out over class and privilege and where later class and privilege win heart and brains. It's also a drama about loyalty and fierce patriotism to the Korean people.

10. General Hospital 2, 종합병원 2008

This drama was hilarious and it reminded me of my favourite TV medical dramas when I was kid in the 1960's, especially the superb UK "Is there a doctor in the House".  However it was not nearly as bombastic, darkly humorous, absurd or slapstick hilarious. In fact, it was very heart warming and serious whilst playing off the comical residents with the seriousness of actual medical cases. The leading actor Cha Tae Hyun is a gifted comic actor and he was able to blend the seriousness of being a resident in the surgery department with character of a comedian. (Cha Tae-Hyun is also superb in a film I heartily recommend called "My Sassy Girl", even if you only watch the first 8 minutes).

The lead character is a resident who has to learn care for patients, exercise a good bed side manner, and not feel defeated when errors are made.  Though not the brightest of the residents in training and did not attend the best school (Koreans are really cliquish and snobbish about school rankings), he did have the most human compassion for others - a trait recognized by only the best of his superiors. Many actors with the exception I think of Cha Tae Hyun were returning from the first version of General Hospital almost a decade earlier. In the first series Lee Jae-Ryong was like Cha Tae Hyun, a first year resident just trying to survive the militaristic orders of her overseers. In the second series which is over a decade later in real time, Jae-Ryong becomes Tae Hyun's supervisor. This is a genuinely funny, warm and compassionate TV medical drama.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Korean Medical TV Dramas

In 1999 I was teaching English in Korea and I used to rush home after work to try and catch the next cliff hanging episode of Heo Jun. This Korean medical TV series was the dramatization of the well-known and loved 16th century Korean physician Heo Jun.

"Heo Jun (허준, 1537?/1539 – 9 October 1615) was a court physician of the Yangcheon Heo clan during the reign of King Seonjo of the Joseon Dynasty in Korea.[1] He was appointed as a court physician at the age of 29. He wrote a number of medical texts, but his most significant achievement is Dongui Bogam (lit. "Mirror of Eastern Medicine"), which is often noted as the defining text of traditional Korean medicine. The work spread to East Asian countries like China, Japan, and Vietnam where it is still regarded as one of the classics of Oriental medicine today. Although Heo Jun worked extensively with the royal family, he put a great emphasis on making treatment methods accessible and comprehensible to common people. He found natural herb remedies that were easily attainable by commoners in Korea. Furthermore, he wrote the names of the herbs using the simple hangul letters instead of using more difficult hanja (Chinese characters), which most commoners did not understand.[2][3]"

At that time there were no English subtitles and I had to ask my Korean family for a running translation. There were no English TV channels and I lived in a county in the middle of Korea where few people spoke English. I was spending more time learning Korean than teaching English just so I could communicate and get around. Even with my family's limited English ability, I was still entranced and riveted to each episode. And each episode ended with a cliff-hanger and the suspense for the next week's episode was contagious. I did literally run home so I could catch at least the opening theme music, which was in itself very catchy. It wasn't until 6 years later that I was able to see the drama again with English translation. In 2013 they did an excellent remake.

In 2005 we were able to rent VHS tapes from a local Korean grocery store in Canada where we now live of a Korean drama called Dae Jang Geum. This drama was a huge international hit and all time classic. Dae Jang Geum is sometimes translated as "Jewel in the Palace". Dae Jang Geum doesn't start out as a medical drama though there are a few scenes with illustrations of Traditional Korean medical practices. It starts out as an intrigue in the royal palace and then develops more of a theme focused on palace cooking and palace politics and customs. The theme later dives very deeply into Korean Traditional Medicine and how Dae Jang Geum learned the art and science in order to return from exile and enter palace life again, but this time as a physician. The palace cooking stuff continues and it is great. Who doesn't love Korean food?

This VHS series also did not have English translations so I had to rely on translations from family and my own interpretation of the actions. If I had spent over $300 I could have ordered English translated CDs. Eventually I was able to watch the drama for the first time on Youtube, in short 10 minute clips that had passable translation. Even with my limited Korean it was obvious many translations were wrong. It was a great revelation to finally be able to see the English subtitles though, and not too long ago, I re-watched it in hour long episodes with good translation. Tragedy, romance, comedy, politics, history, culture, Traditional Korean Medicine - it has it all.

"Dae Jang Geum (Hangul: 대장금; hanja: 大長今; RR: Dae Jang-geum; MR: Tae Chang-gǔm; literally "The Great Jang-geum"), also known as Jewel in the Palace, is a 2003 Korean television series directed by Lee Byung-hoon. It first aired from September 15, 2003 to March 23, 2004 on MBC, where it was the top program with an average viewership rating of 46.3% and a peak of 57.8% (making it the 10th highest rated Korean drama of all time). Produced for US$15 million, it was later exported to 91 countries and has earned US$103.4 million worldwide, becoming known as one of the primary proponents of the Korean Wave by heightening the popularity of Korean pop culture abroad.[1][2][3]

Starring Lee Young-ae in the title role, it tells the tale of an orphaned kitchen cook who went on to become the king's first female physician. In a time when women held little influence in society, young apprentice cook Jang-geum strives to learn the secrets of Korean cooking and medicine in order to cure the King of his various ailments. It is based on the true story of Jang-geum, the first female royal physician of the Joseon Dynasty. The main themes are her perseverance and the portrayal of traditional Korean culture, including Korean royal court cuisine and traditional medicine.[4]"

Now that I have seen more Korean dramas that just have medical or hospital themes I am also interested in ratings and what are the best ones. Of course, what is best is subjective and ratings don't necessarily reflect what one might personally enjoy. I find that a lot of ratings are on Wikipedia. Hur Jun and Dae Jang Geum are in the top ten all time rated Korean dramas, and that is not just drama that involve a lot of Traditional Korean medicine. I remember signing a petition to ask the BBC to play Dae Jang Geum drama for British TV audiences. I don't think it was ever successful, but the drama did play successfully around most of known universe.

An important note to make about Heo Jun and Dae Jang Geum is that they were both directed by Lee Byung-Hoon, who is still going strong making these epic 50 plus episode period dramas based in the Joeson Dynasty history or saeguk. I think they are superb representations of the Korean people and culture - even if only part fantasy and dramatization - there is so much to speak for them.

It seems like it was about 4 years ago that we started watching a lot of Korean TV dramas on our laptop computers utilizing the streaming services of a variety of Asian and Korean drama websites. A lot of these had dubious video and sub-title quality and came with annoying ads. Eventually services like Dramafever and Viki would become the best in quality and we subscribed monthly for a very low subscription rate. A few years ago we cut the TV cable and bought a Chromecast device so we can stream Dramafever and Viki to our big screen TV. The age of binge Korean TV drama had finally arrived.

Here is a list of Korean TV dramas that have a medical theme, plot or drama (In fact if you google "Korean TV medical drama" you will get several lists but these are just the ones that we watched). I must say that 2016 has been an awesome year for good medical dramas from the Koreans.

1. Doctors, 2016
2. Descendants of the Sun, 2016
3. Beautiful Mind, 2016
4. Yong-Pal, 2015
5. Doctor Stranger, 2014
6. Good Doctor, 2013
7. Hur Jun: The Original Story, 2013
8. Sign, 2011
9. Jejunwon, 2010
10. General Hospital 2, 2008

Why is the Korean word for scalpel "mes" 메스? Is that konglish ( Korean-English ) or is a real Korean word? According to Asianwiki it is actually a Dutch word! "Early Korean title was "Green Mes," which translates literally to "Green Scalpel". The word "Mes" is derived from the Dutch language and used in Korea/Japan to refer to a "scalpel". Title was then changed by KBS2 staff to "Good Doctor" due to some people's unfamiliarity with the word "Mes"." There is some very interesting stuff going on with these dramas and I think I will leave that to another post.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Medical smartphone apps need research and evaluation

So I finally did start reading a book by Eric Topol - The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands - and this book is an eHealth classic! So much of the focus is on how the smartphone is becoming the major medical instrument of choice, it often makes me think that the smartphone for medical applications is already the TriCorder. Smartphones with visual heart rate monitors are replacing stethoscopes for first year medical students! Seeing the heart is better than hearing the heart?

From a health informatics perspective it really made me think that we need research and evaluation on all the apps that are being used for medical purposes. Just looking around the WWW a little and indeed there are organizations and research about this:

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Eric Topols's NIH grant for Precision Medicine & Health Informatics Research

I have tried to read Eric Topol's classic books on digital medicine:  "The Patient Will See You Now: The Future of Medicine is in Your Hands" and the "Creative Destruction of Medicine: How the Digital Revolution Will Create Better Healthcare" but my local libraries don't seem to carry them. Not in the habit of buying every book I want to read on Amazon. I think Dr. Topol was a keynote at a nearby eHealth conference not long ago. Instead of attending, I subscribed to his Twitter feed which is well worth a look if you are not already inundated with more information feeds than a human could possibly digest in one lifetime.

The biggest news to come from Dr. Topol I may have first read in the San Diego Union Tribune, a news source I normally would never dream of reading, but for various disparate reasons (or algorithms) came to my attention from sundry WWW news sources. In fact I probably first read about it on the good doctors' Twitter posts.  Here is the link to the San Diego article, but it soon became apparent that the RSS was broadly distributed internationally. The Scripps Translational Research Institute, where Professor Topol works, just happens to be in San Diego:

The NIH doesn't often dole out $120 million grants for research. The last I heard of a grant with that largess was for research on the artificial brain, and I even blogged about that.  What I have not blogged about is precision medicine, which is defined well in this NIH Medline Plus article.  I am kind of wondering if precision medicine is just a plain English way of saying translational bioinformatics and health informatics all rolled into one.

This research project, that involves tapping into the blood samples, DNA, social media, health apps, sensor data, Big Data analytics and health records of a million volunteers, reminds me of  The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. It certainly does bring to mind a classic in health informatics and epidemiologial research - The Framingham Heart Study of 1948 - which is still providing data for researchers. One can only imagine how the data generated from this research will be analyzed sixty years from now. Artificial Intelligence tools like IBM Watson and Alpha Go, which will probably be employed to help the data scientists, are just in the teething stage, compared to what their exponential computer grandchildren will be able to byte off.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Journal of Medical Internet Research - Good!

Recently out of the blue in spite of Canadian anti-spam laws I have been receiving email updates from the Journal of Medical Internet Research. This is no problem with me. I think the JMIR is the best eHealth journal out there. I think I may even have applied for a job doing web stuff for them once. I have 8 years experience as a technical editor for an open access academic journal plus a diploma in web design and development. Anyway, if there is one eHealth journal I would read all the time and / or want to be published in, it would be the JMIR.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Blip culture, eHealth, and Tibetan Medicine

Another "Pastism" and Alvin Toffler "Futurism" post. The theme seems to be again about the early days of the internet, with only a smattering of relevance to ehealth.

I don't know what it is like now in Nepal but in 1996 in Boudhanath, the enclave of Kathmandu where there is a large population of Tibetan refugees living, using the internet was limited to one of only a dozen or so internet cafes in the entire city of Kathmandu, let alone Boudanath.  The internet cafe was mostly a place to make a long distance telephone call or send a fax. Not many in my immediate family even used email then. Anyway, I wanted to find out how my father was doing following his prostate surgery.  To digress, what was I doing in Boudhanath in the first place?

First off, I had just finished a one year career college diploma in Visual Basic/C Language Programming but instead of looking for a job like I was supposed to, I gave in to the notion to go to Nepal. I was a little disappointed that I had not studied HTML, Java script, and & Web Design because at that time, there was something called the "Internet' developing and I was a sort of a pioneer in that area because I had run a Bulletin Board System (BBS) system and I lived in Silicon Valley North (Ottawa). I guess the allure of the Himalayas had just too powerful a hold over me. The career college I graduated from would later change it's name to Everest College.Why equate getting a job and climbing the highest mountain in the world, I will never know.

I had gone to Nepal with the idea of studying about traditional Tibetan medicine and how ignorant westerners like me could be schooled to learn about it. A few years before I had had an appointment and a health check up with Yeshe Donden in Dharmasala India, the Himalayan town which holds the residence of the Dalai Lama and a large Tibetan refugee population. Yeshe Donden was once the personal physician of the Dalai Lama. Of course, I heeded some of his advise to improve my health, and bought his book "Health Through Balance" when I returned to Canada. I also possessed at the time more than several "medicine buddha initiations from my Tibetan Lama and other Lamas as well.  It was a meditation practice that somehow always had deeply resonated within me and I valued the "mantra as medicine" ideal.

I support Tibetan refugees and human rights and at that time two Tibetans and their families who I had known and corresponded with for many years were both living in Boudhanath. It was a good opportunity for me to travel there then. One of the Tibetans was actually a trained physician from Tibet, but in modern Chinese medical science, not traditional Tibetan medicine. Apparently, he almost had no choice but to study medicine under the Communist education system. Now as a refugee in Nepal, he was more keenly interested in following his natural bent, which was studying Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices.  Through his connections I was able to meet a number of Tibetan physicians, one of whom was Amchi (Doctor in Tibetan)   to the King of the Royal Family of Nepal.  Alas, this was a few years before the bad seed in that royal family took an automatic weapon and annihilated a dozen of the lot, including himself. That left a distant uncle  or relative of the royals to try to take up the vacant throne.

Another Tibetan physician who wore the robes of a monk (some do not) was a keeper and supplier of bags of herbal medicines, all hand picked in the Himalayas.  The bags were larger than 25 kilogram rice bags stacked up from floor to ceiling. From my experience living in South Korea doctors there could speak reasonable English because they had studied western medicine textbooks in English. These Tibetan physicians I was with had no such English language skills, and this was another reason for my being there - teaching English.

Anyway, once it was learned that my father had just gone through surgery for prostate cancer I was informed that traditional Tibetan medicine for him would be very good. Next thing I knew I had a bag of pills to take back home with me. When I got back home and visited my father in the hospital he was still listening to the Qi Gong meditation tape I had given him. I don't think he ever took the Tibetan medicine, but the pills were all nicely wrapped in gold leaf and looked good.  I had  previously heard about PADMA 28, Tibetan medicine for the heart, but had no idea about all the "precious pills" the Men-Tsee-Khang had in their stores for other illnesses and conditions. 

So this is all just to say that medical systems like those in Tibet are ancient - comprising thousands of years of evolution and development - while eHealth systems in comparison are a "blip culture", a phrase coined by Alvin Toffler. If you click that link you will find an interesting chapter (by the same name)  in a book called Evidence-Based Health Communication".

One spin off of the ancient meditation cultures like Tibet for eHealth has been a proliferation of apps  for mindfulness meditation.  I think this an amazing development, in line with computer brain interfaces, EEG mindfulness feedback systems, virtual reality temple visits, and whatever else you can think of from the touch of a button. The cultural anthropologist in me still thinks an app is not real communication, but since I successfully completed an online 8 week course on mindfulness meditation, I am not one to talk. I thought the course was brilliant and I have done the real 10 day silent mindfulness meditation retreats.  I blogged about that < here >.